Real World Seattle: MTV's '$5 Cover' Music Series

Seattle’s pop-culture image can be described in three words: rain, coffee and grunge music. Sure, we have an umbrella-named music festival (Bumbershoot) and the city seems to run on caffeine, but grunge music? You can still find flannel, but Seattle’s music scene has evolved significantly since the Doc Martens were shelved. A web-based, music film series, $5 Cover: Seattle, was created in partnership between local filmmaker Lynn Shelton and MTV. It launches online on December 15 and showcases the next generation of Seattle music.

MTV launched the $5 Cover web series in 2009. Each series is a collection of short episodes (5-10 minutes) connected by a (somewhat) fictional story line. Memphis was the first city and MTV decided that Seattle should be the second - as long as Shelton directed.  And she agreed after being assured that it would accurately reflect her vision of Seattle’s music scene. “It seemed like a good thing for Seattle and would give exposure to the film and music communities which I completely love,” says Shelton.

The 12-part series features 13 Seattle bands, 35 locations and the cast is mainly Seattle musicians.  Seattle magazine talked separately to Jason Dodson from the Maldives, Dita Vox from Thee Emergency, and Jessi Reed and Brady Harvey from the Tea Cozies, about working on $5 Cover and what makes Seattle special.  

Shelton filmed $5 Cover like she did her other successful film Humpday - there was a general script, but actors improvised most of the dialogue. Was that difficult?
Jason Dodson: 
The similarity is that with music, you can just be playing a couple of chords and it suddenly becomes something cool.  In movies, you’re interacting with another person and you develop a certain rhythm or repartee and can start riffing off each other.  Music and filmmaking are similar in the sense that they’re call-and-response processes. 
Brady Harvey: 
You knew generally what was going to happen, but we could ad lib through it. So, it’s things that you would normally say and you’re comfortable saying them. You’re not reading lines. I think all of the bands actually came through as who they are.

Did it take some convincing to participate? 
Dita Vox: The concept is so hard to verbalize. Even now after doing it, it’s hard because it’s not really reality, but it’s not scripted either.  It’s a weird thing. We spent a lot of time getting to know each other, but I was always really excited to work with Lynn.
Jason Dodson:
To be honest, I had no concept at all of what it going to turn out to be. It was pretty immediate when I met her (Shelton), though, that this was going to happen.  She is energetic and it didn’t take much convincing because she’s so enthusiastic and loves musics and loves the Seattle community. 

In $5 Cover, there is the sense that Seattle has a tight-knit music community. Do you feel it’s an accurate representation?
Dita Vox: I think because of the bands that Lynn picked, the quality of music is high and it’s a good representation of Seattle. That’s the entire point behind $5 Cover. We all talk to each other, help each other and are around each other all the time. I personally feel that we’re a small enough town that everyone knows everyone else. There is a one-degree of separation in the music world. 
Jason Dodson: There is a community, but I think even more so thanks to what came out of the film. Obviously, bands of similar genres, like the Maldives and the Moondoggies, run in the same circles. But Lynn helped create an even larger community. We met the guys from Champagne, Champagne and there was this immediate kinship. You start having country and hip hop, the Maldives and Champagne, Champagne, playing together. We developed an even greater sense of family. 
Jessi Reed: All the bands involved are now fans of each other just like in the film itself. We actually do enjoy each other’s music and go to each other’s shows.

The music venues almost become their own character in $5 Cover. Is that something distinctive about Seattle?
Jason Dodson: I think it is because we have distinct neighborhoods and each neighborhood has its own unique venue... In Seattle, there are so many great neighborhoods that you can disappear into. Seattle is very lucky and charmed in that way. Lynn Shelton painted many portraits of different neighborhoods, but also showed how it forms into one great city and community.

What do you hope people realize after watching $5 Cover?
Brady Harvey: I hope they realize that a lot is going on in the Seattle music scene. It’s not just one genre, it’s varied. Seattle has broad musical tastes and it’s cool to show the world that we’re not just about grunge anymore.
Jessi Reed: $5 Cover features live performances and that’s the reason this series exists. People get to see bands perform that they maybe haven’t even heard of before.
Jason Dodson: The whole mythology of rock ‘n roll is bull. It’s just not the way it is. It’s rare that a band gets to a position where they’re playing and making real money. Most of us do it for the love if it. The film is awesome because it shows that side...It’s about being the best person you can be and giving that back to people. 
Dita Vox: It’s important for people to know that they need to invest money on good music and good bands because that’s how we’re able to stay together. Spend money on music! Period.

Check out all of the Seattle bands featured in $5 Cover: Seattle. Champagne, Champagne, The Corespondents, GOD, The Lights, Maldives, Moondoggies, Sean Nelson, The Spits,  Tea Cozies, Thee Emergency, THEESatisfaction, Weekend and Whiskey Tango.